Can You Suggest How to Refinish Older Oak Hardwood Floor?

ronakaOctober 13, 2011

Our son has bought a older house built in 1958. It has all hardwood floors except for the kitchen. I suspect they are original, and have been refinished at least once before. A check at an air register shows the surface starting to get close to the dovetail fit. It is not in very good condition, with some stains. The finish looks kind of cloudy, flat, and grayed. It probably should be replaced, but this is his first house and he cannot afford it at this time. So, any suggestions or tips you may have on refinishing it would be much appreciated. Dad, who is retired, is obviously going to be pressed into service to help! Some questions and concerns:

1. I'm concerned that wax has been used on the floor, and perhaps even to finish it instead of a polyurethane. Best way to remove it? Mineral spirits and steel wool has been suggested. Sounds very labor intensive!

2. Plan to use a rectangular sheet (12"x18") rental orbital sander with 80 grit to minimize thickness removal of wood. Is it going to be fine enough? He wants to use a dark stain, and I wonder if orbital sand marks will show?

3. Suggested stain? I mainly use Minwax Wood Finish for my woodworking projects. Suitable for a floor?

4. Plan to use a fast drying oil based polyurethane to be compatible with the stain, and also for durability. This is likely the last finish job this floor can take. Minwax? Varathane? or ?? Best application tool?

5. Suggested type of wood filler?

Any suggestions or tips are much appreciated. I've installed prefinished oak hardwood, but never refinished a floor.

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Since my husband and I recently went through this DIY, I can make a few suggestions, although we didn't refinish, we installed unfinished rustic inexpensive red oak floors ourselves and finished them.

I don't know anything about removing a wax finish, maybe someone here can advise or you could try a different hardwood flooring forum.

For the sander we rented a U-sand, which is a floor sanding machine that is supposedly made for the DIY'er. It worked great, got right up to the edges and was really easy to use. I don't know how well it would perform for refinishing, as that involves more sanding.

For the stain and poly, we went with the professional grade stuff. It was so worth the extra money as the products were much more forgiving to work with, and I think will have better long term durability. We went with the Bona products which are designed for hardwood floors.

We`used the Bona Drifast stain, which is an oil modified stain that dries quickly. The stain is very rich looking and was wonderful with any accidental overlap. We mixed a couple different colors for a custom stain color.

We went with the new Bona waterbased Traffic HD in the extreme matte finish and I love it. I think the traffic HD has one of the highest durability commercial ratings. A matte finish will hide more imperfections and scratches than a shiny finish. Although it says extreme matte, the finish does have a slight shine with a very natural wood look, it looks great with our rustic grade floors. I've never seen a poly finish like it, it's so velvety smooth and natural looking. It's sheen is in between Bona Naturale and Bona Traffic Satin HD.

The water based polys I believe are more durable than the oil base and this one is meant to go on top of Bona's oil base stain. The Bona waterbase poly also had very little fumes that disappeared with in a couple days. It has a separate catalyst (hardener) that has to be added and then you have 4 hours once you add the hardener in. We were concerned at first, but with the T-bar applicator, we were able to get one application done in about 45 min-1 hour (650 sqft+ stairs).

We have two dogs who like to race around the house and hate to have their nails clipped, I have yet to see a scratch, this finish seems to be wearing like iron, I am so impressed.

We applied the stain, waited 48 hours, then applied the first coat of poly, the next day we buffed it, wiped down with a damp cloth, let it dry and then applied the second coat and let it fully cure. We bought the T-bar poly applicator, which worked out well. We also bought the Bona Mixer bottle, so we could mix smaller batches when we needed to and didn't have to mix up a whole bottles worth. This was 7.00 well spent as we mixed up a gallon and a half for each application.

For wood filler we tried Woodwise floor filler, and Timbermate, I thought the Timbermate performed a little better, but both products were much better than anything at Lowes, or Home Depot. The waterbased wood fillers are great because wiping off excess with a damp rag is fairly easy, even after it's dried. Plastic putty tools should be used with the waterbased fillers as some metal scrapers can discolor the filler.

Since the Bona products are professional grade, we bought them through a company that sells to the general public and professionals. Their business is mostly an online store, but people can come in and buy products from them locally. Since they were local for us we got to talk to them in person. They were great, they took the time to answer all our questions each time I stopped in for products. I found them extremely knowledgeable and very caring, their how to videos on their website were also helpful.

Floor Mechanics Online Store

We spent about 1,750.00 total for 1,000 sqft of very rustic red oak flooring, Pneumatic floor nailer, moisture meter, sander/buffer rental, and finishing products. It was some work, but worth it for site finished, solid hardwood flooring.

Good luck with your son's floors.

1 Like    Bookmark   October 13, 2011 at 6:54PM
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Thank you for the very detailed response. That is helpful. We are in Canada, and will have to check to see if we can get those products locally. I believe the U-Sand sander is a random orbital type. Do you recall what grit of sandpaper you used? And, if there were any issues with the sanding marks showing when you stained it?

    Bookmark   October 14, 2011 at 1:28PM
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You can check out Bona's website to see if there are any local distributors near you, looks like they have a few in Canada shown on the US site.

Bona Website

With the sanding, you do a few different grits usually starting with the lowest and then moving up to the highest. You usually skip 20 grits when doing it. Ours was 3 sanding passes, first pass was 40 grit, second 60 grit, third was 80 grit. You should do at least 3 different sanding passes, maybe even 4.

I think the sanding pads go from 36-120 grit, each sanding pass you do with a more fine sandpaper and smooth out any sanding lines as you go. We started at 40 grit because we didn't have old finish to sand off first, you would probably want to start at 36 grit. The website below has some great articles on sanding and finishing floors you might want to check them out.

National Wood Flooring Association Website Articles

I don't remember seeing any sanding marks visible after we stained, our stain is a medium dark color, and our floor is very rustic with lots of variation in character and stain, so any marks could be blending in and are less noticeable if there are any.

We also got the buffing pads to use in between the poly coats. We rented the machine twice, once for all the sanding, and then again between poly coats for buffing.

Also you want to do the wood filler after you sand all the original finish off, don't wait till your last sanding pass, the fillers should be sanded around a 60 grit, and they may dull the sand paper faster, so you may go through more paper.

1 Like    Bookmark   October 14, 2011 at 8:51PM
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Thank you again for the detailed follow up. There is a local distributer of the Bona products. However, they seem to be all water based. At this point we have not ruled out water based, but are leaning towards the solvent based stains and polyurethanes as I believe they are a little more tolerant of residual wax.

The fact that you got away with 80 grit for fineness while using a stain is very helpful. I'm sure the floor is too thin to survive a 36 or 40 grit sanding, so I'm leaning toward a 60 grit initial followed by a final at 80. It has been refinished at least a couple of times before so it should be basically flat. On a new floor board thicknesses and underlay variation will give the raw floor a quite uneven surface that has to be leveled out, and in some case a lot of wood has to be removed. This floor should be past that, so hoping 60 grit is as coarse as we have to go.

That wood flooring site is also very helpful. I read a few of the articles, and will have to do some more.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2011 at 1:37PM
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roobear, you're amazing! You're making me feel like a positive slouch...we have about 500 sf of oak to put in (reclaimed white oak to match the rest of our floor) and I'm hiring it out. I just don't have the mental space to handle it all right now, but that's clearly not your problem. Good onya!

    Bookmark   October 16, 2011 at 1:54AM
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